Category: London, UK

The London Eye is still a hit

It had a rocky start, but as the London Eye heads towards its second decade of operation, the giant Ferris Wheel has become the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom.

Situated on the south bank of the River Thames between Westminster Bridge and Hungerford Bridge, the London Eye was opened on New Years Eve in 1999 in time for Millennium celebrations.

However, technical problems prevented the public from coming aboard for a couple of months.

IMG_0287.jpg

Since then, however, the wheel has grown steadily in stature, with more than three-and-a-half million users a year.

The popularity of the attraction is understandable. We were amazed at the awe-inspiring and uninterrupted views over the grand city of London.

It was a cloudy day, but, from the top – about 443 feet or 135 metres above ground – the scene was breathtaking.

DSCN0713.jpg

The Eye has 32 air-conditioned capsules (one for each of the city’s boroughs), but they’re numbered from one to 33.

As with many buildings and other structures, there is no number 13 capsule— and the cars skip from 12 to 14.

Each ride takes a leisurely 30 minutes, during which the Eye makes one complete cycle.

pexels-photo-230794.jpeg

The popularity of the London Eye has continues to grow despite losing its tag as the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world.

That title is now held by a 550 feet (167.6 metre) monster in Las Vegas, Navada, USA, which will itself be eclipsed by another giant under construction on Staten Island in New York harbour.

pexels-photo-105069.jpeg

The Staten Island wheel is expected to be 630 feet (192 metres) tall when it opens next year.

Why is London special?

This question from a reader really set us thinking.

It’s difficult to adequately explain the fascination that the English capital holds.

We’ve visited London many times, but still find it just as enthralling, enticing and enriching.

See  why:

London’s appeal is a lot more than its 2,000 years of history or the city’s iconic landmarks.

From  its astonishing museums and galleries, unbelievable architecture, palaces, parks and theatres to the enchantment of the River Thames, London gives real meaning to the term ‘stately’.

There is a grandeur unmatched and the vibrancy of a modern city with a high level of cultural and ethnic diversity.

P1010190

Copyright: Memorable Destination

London can be expensive to visit, but standing by the ornate gates of Buckingham Palace as the guards change is almost a rite of passage for much of the world.

If you’ve visited London you undoubtedly understand its appeal.

D44C68A8-DA1F-4D7D-AF8B-B9291B92728D

If you are thinking about vacationing in Europe, we recommend that you spend time in the English capital. It is special indeed.

We also have no hesitation in recommending our good friends at the Rembrandt Hotel in South Kensington.

P1010180

Copyright: Memorable Destination

 

Underground secrets proving a hit

More of London’s secret underground world has been revealed.

After visiting the Churchill war rooms on our last trip to the English capital, we were fascinated to hear about guided tours deep beneath the city.

clapham

The ‘Hidden London’ tour program has been organised by London Transport Museum and has proved a big hit.

According to the museum’s website, all but one of the tours has been sold out until September.

Apparently, the secret world beneath London has really caught the public imagination.

Some hints of this underground world can be seen at street level – the odd ventilation shaft or drain cover might lead to an abandoned military bunker or one of London’s 13 subterranean rivers.

Churchill secretly took refuge at Down Street station during the height of the Blitz bombing raids on London in World War II.
The station had operated as part of the Tube to 1932 before it became a bomb-proof bunker.

89219713_downstreethidden_tfl_321_original1

Located between Hyde Park Corner and Green Park stations, Down Street was covertly transformed into the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof bunker.

As well as a secret air raid shelter for the Prime Minister, the narrow tangle of tunnels also served as the nerve centre of England wartime railways.

P1010163

Photo: Memorable Destination

Additional photography tours of the dark and deserted passageways under Euston Station have also proved popular with Instagrammers.

120px-Down_street_map_1912

If the Hidden London tours are half as interesting as the Churchill War Rooms, it is a worthwhile venture indeed.

The program is yet another exciting initiative by London Transport Museum  and we are keen to review the tours and let you know the outcome.

Another prominent underground city exists beneath the countryside near the English city of Bath.

Photo credit: Photos courtesy London Transport Museum. Map courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Floating garden proposal

Anyone who has visited New York City in Autumn and walked along the High Line overhead park will understand the appeal of the controversial Garden Bridge proposal in London, United Kingdom.

The High Line is a former elevated rail corridor transformed into a green strip above the rooftops of West Manhattan.

DSCN0526.jpg

We’ve always found it to be a gentle and pleasant walk that attracts big crowds of locals and tourists alike, especially in the cooler months running up to winter.

A pedestrian bridge of flowers

In London, the proposal is to create a pedestrian garden floating above the River Thames on a bridge stretching from South Bank to Temple tube station in the centre of the city.

Originally suggested by the actress, Joanne Lumley in 1998 as a memorial to Princess Diana, construction of the Garden Bridge is officially scheduled to start in the middle of this year and continue until late 2018 – if everyone agrees.

_82936012_bridge

It will be 367 metres (1,204 feet) long and 30 metres (98 feet) across at its widest point.

However, the project has been controversial for much of its life, with critics questioning, among other things, its necessity; appropriateness; funding, maintenance; and likely impact on river views.

There has also been concern about the impact of traffic during construction and the affect of the work on riverside walkways.

Construction contract signed

Despite the conflicting opinions, the Garden Bridge Trust announced last week that it had signed a construction contract with the joint venture of Bouygues Travaux Publics and Cimolai SpA.

dlh2j1ojirnrarxjupfz

The Garden Bridge proposal involves 270 trees, 2,000 shrubs and 64,000 bulbs in a garden that proponents say will be crossed up to seven million times a year.

The idea is to plant marshland habitat on the South Bank side of the bridge, leading people through to clifftop landscape in the middle and ornamental gardens on the north side of the River Thames.

Plantings will aim to provide year-round colour, including Spring blossoms; summer flowers, autumn colours and the evergreens of winter.

_82936011_gbgarden10_without_people

In mid-2015, UK media reported that the Garden Bridge would cost about 175 million pounds.

At the risk of offending the many critics, we predict that the Garden Bridge will eventually become a novel tourist attraction to rival the London Eye in popularity.

about-bridge6-lg

London images courtesy ARUP engineering firm and Garden Bridge Trust

 

Journey back to World War II

As well as its famous Tube railway system, London has another ‘underground’ that is well worth a visit.

The Churchill War Rooms – a converted storage basement – is set deep beneath London’s parliamentary precinct and provides a fascinating look at the bunkers from where Britain’s World War II planning was carried out.  V

isitors move around the various sections of the war rooms through tunnels.

IMG_0430

Left nearly intact at the end of the war, these bunkers allow you to see where and how Britain’s war effort was guided.

There’s the wartime Cabinet Room; radio and code areas; accommodation; a maze of offices; and and a ‘map room’ where plans for defending Britain in the face of an invasion, were drawn up.

The bunker was capped by a huge concrete slab, but was still considered vulnerable to a direct hit by a German bomb. There were also fears of flooding, poison gas attack and infiltration of enemy spies or parachutists.

IMG_0345 (1)

Secrecy was the site’s best defence.

The rooms became fully operational one week before the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

What’s that smell?

Developed as a short-term measure, accommodation was basic and lacking in many everyday services.

For example, when the site was adapted in 1938, it lacked any system for the removal of sewage.

This meant that chemical toilets, known as Elsans, were used in the rooms – making the sub-basement somewhat smelly.

IMG_0361

Washing facilities generally consisted of bowls and buckets.

Being underground for long periods of daylight created the risk of Vitamin D deficiency and arrangements were made for the typists and others to be given sunlamp treatment to lessen the risk

However, despite the drawbacks, the rooms still became home to a host of civil servants and military personnel – and the frequent shelter of government ministers, including the Prime Minister

P1010163

Winston Churchill is said to have disliked the underground shelter and – despite measures taken to protect him – apparently liked to take himself and occasional visitors, onto the roof of the building above to watch air raids in progress.

The actual War Cabinet room still looks exactly as it did when the complex was closed at the end of the war in 1945.

P1010141

The furnishings, for example, are the same as during the 115 meetings of the War Cabinet and Defence Committee held in the room during the war years.

And attached to the bunker is an interactive museum that outlines Churchill’s life and often controversial political and military careers.

Getting there

Run by the Imperial War Museum, The Churchill War Rooms are located at Clive Steps, King Charles Street, in central London.

They are open every day from 9.30am to 6pm and are a short walk from Westminster Tube Station, which is reached by taking the Jubilee, District and Circle underground lines.

Ticket prices are about £16.35 for adults and £8.15 for children.

How to spend two days in Knightsbridge

Luxury shopping, fine food and quality accommodation In London’s swanky Knightsbridge area – with a touch of culture.

P1010805Day 1

Catch a tube from Heathrow airport on the Picadilly Line, alighting in the plush surrounds of either the South Kensington or Knightsbridge stations.

Take a cab from the station to Thurloe Place, to book into the Rembrandt Hotel, directly across from the Victoria and Albert Mursum and centrally located for the upmarket shops and restaurants of Knightsbridge and Chelsea.

After briefly unwinding at the Rembrandt, it’s advisable to check whether a dinner booking can be made at one of the many wonderful restaurants at Knightsbridge.

P1010180These include The Rib Room Bar and Restaurant, a legendary luxury facility in Knightsbridge’s Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel.

If you can get a booking there, you’re doing well.

Now, it’s time to hit the shops.

Head off on a 10 minute walk to Harrods .

Harrods

This iconic London destination seems to constantly change – and, regardless of your age, it’s impossible to become weary of wandering among its 300 departments.

IMG_0069Once a grocery store, Harrods offers goods from around the world; all high quality and highlighted in stunning displays including a remarkable Egyptian Hall.

My personal favourite is to visit the store at night, when Harrods is said to be illuminated by 11,500 light globes (these days, many of them are energy efficient LEDs)

And,despite its traditional look, Harrods contains floor after floor of chic and trendy clothes, where you can find unique and ultra modern fashions mixed with old world glory and an overall sense of quality. Go mad among the racks.

For lunch, either try the Georgian Restaurant on the fourth floor at Harrods, or walk a few minutes further to another iconic London landmark, the grand store of Harvey Nichols.

Here, the store’s fifth floor restaurant will refresh, revive and send you off for an afternoon of shopping.

P1010129Harvey Nichols

Located on the corner of Knightsbridge and Sloan Streets, Harvey Nichols is a magnet for fashionistas.

The store combines a stunning range of designers and boasts an elite clientele which favors Harvey Nichols for fine clothes, accessories, cosmetics, shoes and much more.

Back on the fifth floor, there is also a cafe where you can grab a mid-afternoon latte, before launching back into shopping.

Valentino, Versace and Tom Ford

Continue down Sloan Street to check out the luxury clothes and accessories at both Valentino and Versace, where the range of fragrances is eye-opening. Neither of these stores should be rushed.

P1010133Another prominent brand, Tom Fords, is also nearby, with striking mens and womens clothing.

Now, it’s back to the Rembrandt, for a quick drink in the lounge bar, before preparing for dinner.

Day 2

Don’t miss the Rembrant’s breakfast, which is usually included with the room rate and has a great reputation among travellers.

Either enjoy a Full English breakfast, or a continental buffet.

After breakfast, head for the adjoining Aquilla Health and Fitness Club to pamper the body beautiful.

Start the day at the gym

There’s a fully equipped gym, a swimming pool, individual sauna and steam frooms, beauty rooms and an air conditioned studio.

Established for more than 20 years, Aquilla is well known for its range of services.

Guests of the Rembrandt can use the facilities at a reduced rate.

On weekdays, the centre is open from 7am.

Exercise the mind

Refreshed from the pampering at Aquilla, it’s time to check out of the Rembrandt, before rounding out our two-day Knightbridge stop-over by adding a dash of culture to the fine shopping and outstanding food.

So, head for another of the area’s best known establishments, the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The V&A is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects.

It was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The V&A covers 12.5 acres and 145 galleries.

Its collection spans 5,000 years of art, from ancient times to the present day, from the cultures of Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa.

Alternatively, you can walk a few minutes further and visit the Science and Natural History Museum.